A burly rig designed to be pointed one way: downhill
Kona is one of those bike brands that seemed to have always been around. Since we started riding, late in the previous century, we always encountered Konas on the trails: at first, the very beautiful chromoly hardtails, followed by full-suspension aluminum bikes with a “fake” four-bar link suspension design – simple, reliable and efficient.
In recent years, Kona’s designers have attempted to steer off the familiar paths and conjure more sophisticated suspension designs (e.g., the Magic Link), with modest success. However, last year one of the world’s strongest bike brands bounced back into the game by introducing the Process series. With the Process line of bikes, Kona brings back the traditional four-bar link, with special attention to compression ratios on every part of the travel. It also adopted a modern geometry for all models. The result is irregular rear travel figures – 111, 134, 153, and 167mm, per model – each according to the wheel diameter and designated category.
We got to test the Process 153 Enduro/All-Mountain bike, fitted with 27.5-inch wheels, which is the lower-spec model of two sharing the same frame and travel. Three or four years ago we would you have used the word “Freeride” once or twice during the review, but Freeride is pretty much dead; indeed, have we already mentioned the word “Enduro”?
We hit the trails with a lot of bike under our legs (33.51 LBS ), highly anticipating the sections where gravity is on our side, but somewhat dreading the pace we will likely (not) be able to sustain on the climbs.
- Rocker Independent Suspension with 153 mm of rear travel
- Rockshox Pike RC provides 160 mm of front travel
- Head tube angle – 66.5 degrees
- Seat tube angle – 74 degrees
- Chainstay length – 425 mm
- Weight (including pedals and sealant) – 33.51 LBS
What parts stand out?
The Process 153’s frame is classic Kona – a massive aluminum rig, single-pivot suspension with a link to control progression, and large bearings at every existing joint. The frame screams durability, reliability and ease of maintenance, even if it looks as if this comes at the cost of a few extra grams. The Process’s geometry is completely up-to-date, with a 600mm top tube (for size M), ultra-short chainstays (425 mm). With the combination of Kona’s generic short stem and wide bars, they spell out the purpose of this bike quite clearly.
Kona’s product managers chose most of the Process’s components meticulously. The front suspension is Rockshox’s Pike RC which, while not as adjustable as its more expensive brother, nevertheless gets the same excellent charger damper; indeed, most riders will not feel the difference between the models. Rockshox also provided the rear shock, which worked smoothly and well on the descents, but we were forced to lock it on most climbs due to the excessive bobbing. The choice of the internally-wired KS dropper post is also well justified. A dropper post is a must-have accessory on any aggressive bike, and it’s nice to see that Kona didn’t settle for a mid-range solution but aimed for the top.
Our main gripe lies with the wheel department. Kona chose to couple Shimano Deore-level hubs with wide, heavy WTB i25 rims. To add insult to injury, the already-hefty wheels were coupled with fat Maxxis Minion 2.3-inch tires, which are also quite heavy. The result is a wheelset that, while sturdy and reliable, is nonetheless very bulky, and makes maneuvering a challenge in any terrain in which the nose of the bike isn’t pointing downwards.
On the trail
Okay, so the weight of Process is impossible to avoid – not that weight is that irregular for aggressive bikes in this price range, mind you, but what with ski lifts and friends with pickups a rarity, we spent a considerable amount of time with the Kona on the climbs, and it’s no picnic. It should be noted that they climb satisfactorily given their travel, angles and weight. The bobbing let us down a bit, but switching the rear shock to the semi-locked position improved the experience considerably. The main difficulty was a result of the rotating mass of the rims and tires. Swapping the wheelset and tires to a slightly less aggressive combo would significantly improve their performance. In the current spec, in many cases it is better to shift down to the granny gear (a rare case in which we were happy about the 2×10 set-up), enjoy the rather comfortable pedaling position, and crank away calmly and patiently until the end of the climb.
That said, anyone who is looking into this type of bikes has of course no real interest in climbing fast, and therefore our review of the descending experience is far more important. In short, the Process 153 is a very aggressive piece of work – the relaxed head angle, coupled with the generous travel and wide and sticky tires produce a kind of magic carpet ride on the most violent sections of the trail. We couldn’t get the bike to break a sweat, and in fact, only on very specific sections (the steepest and most aggressive ones) did we feel we really managed to bring them into their comfort zone. As long as the slope is steep enough, the bike feels alive and very nimble. Pulling a bunny hop or lifting the front wheel to tackle an element on the trail is easy, and in general the Process enjoys spending time airborne, taking off and landing with ease.
On less technical sections and flowing singletrack, the Process felt a little like overkill. Unless you live and ride in steep mountain country, the vast majority of MTB trails can be better tackled with the Process 134 or even 111, which will likely be quicker and more effective on them. Nevertheless, the Process 153 turns very well – the low bottom bracket, coupled with short chainstays, make for an accurate and efficient turning machine. We were able to maintain high momentum inside the turns, which was particularly important for a relatively heavy bike which has a harder time accelerating out of turns.
The Kona Process 153 is an above-average Enduro/All-Mountain/Freeride bike, which gives its rider a big boost of confidence and allows for a wide margin of error. However, the potential buyer must remember that it’s a very aggressive rig, designed primarily for a very specific type of riding – namely, that which takes place in steep, violent terrain. If a big portion of your rides does not take you to those extremes, it may be best to consider purchasing one of Kona’s less aggressive models, such as the 111 or the 134.
However, if you are the type of rider who doesn’t feel the need to hammer the climbs, likes technical descents, respectable jumps, and speed in general, and even visits the occasional downhill trail, the Process 153 can be the one pair which will meet your requirements, and do so at a very reasonable price.
|Head tube angle||66.5 degrees|
|Seat tube angle||74 degrees|
|Chainstay length||425 mm|
|Weight (incl. pedals & sealant)||33.51 LBS|